Cheshire East Council

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Welsh council defeats High Court challenge over library decision

A Welsh council has successfully defended a judicial review challenge in the latest High Court battle over the future of a library.

The case of Tilley v Vale of Glamorgan Council [2015] EWHC 3194 (Admin) (05 November 2015) related to a decision of Vale of Glamorgan’s Cabinet made on 9 March 2015 and which concerned whether Rhoose Library should become a community-led library.

The claimant, Caroline Tilley, and her children used the library.

The judge, Mrs Justice Elizabeth Laing, said the main issues in the case were:

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(1) what the Cabinet at Vale of Glamorgan had decided; and


(2) in the light of that


(a) whether the claimant’s application was premature in so far as it was a challenge to the decision,

(b) whether it was too late in so far as it was a challenge to the consultation which preceded to the decision and if not,



(c) whether the council's decision was unlawful.



Mrs Justice Laing accepted the claimant’s submission that the council had decided on 9 March that if no expression of interest were received from a library, it would close.

If the matter had ended there, she said, the application for judicial review would have succeeded.

That was because the council had not complied with a duty implicit in section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, namely a duty to assess needs for library services before making a decision to close any library.

The judge would have also held that the decision was unlawful because she could not conclude on the material she had seen that the Cabinet had due regard to the needs referred to in s. 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

However Mrs Justice Laing said the matter did not end there. “Before this claim was issued, two EIs [expressions of interest] were received in respect of the Library. The Library was then, and is still, therefore, open.”

She accepted the council’s submission that the 9 March decision was a conditional one to close those libraries for which no expression of interest was received.

The judge went on to say that the position now, under the resolutions passed on 9 March, was that any further decision on the future of the libraries would be made by the Cabinet.

“That means that, as of the time of the hearing of this claim, there is now no operative decision to close any library, and no-one has authority delegated by the Cabinet to take any steps to close any library,” she said.

Mrs Justice Laing found that one consequence of her construction of the 9 March decision was that in so far as this was a challenge to close any library, it was premature. “When this claim was issued, there was no such operative decision,” she said.

The judge noted that the flaws she had identified could be remedied in any report to the Cabinet for the meeting at which any actual decision to close a library might be made.

Mrs Justice Laing said the decision of 9 March was also a decision to adopt a proposal to explore the potential for community-led libraries to operate in the council’s area.

The claimant’s legal team argued that this aspect of the decision was unlawful, on the basis that the consultation was unfair and unlawful and that the decision was irrational for a variety of reasons.

But the High Court judge rejected both these claims.

She concluded that the consultation was not unlawful and that it had met the test set out in the Coughlan case.

Mrs Justice Laing also dismissed all four reasons put forward by the claimant’s counsel as to why the decision was irrational.

A spokesman for the local authority has said: “The Vale of Glamorgan Council has received the written decision by The Honourable Mrs Justice Laing DBE to dismiss the application for judicial review brought on behalf of a group campaigning against the establishment of a community library in Rhoose.

“The council welcomes the decision, however, in light of the decision to grant the group leave to appeal cannot comment further.”

 

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